Assessing suitable leopard habitat in Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan
Mapping the Persian leopard habitat connectivity in the Iranian sector of the Caucasus ecoregion
September 2013. Drastic declines in the Persian leopard population in the Middle East and particularly in Caucasus, has attracted attention of researchers and conservationists to the status of this subspecies in the region.
Consequently various countries in the Persian leopard range in the Caucasus have launched an attempt to address the status of leopards in the area. However, the major population of the Persian leopards are known to inhabit in Iran. As a result, leopard status in Iran and particularly in North-west of the country plays an important role in survival of the Persian leopards in the region.
Iran’s Persian leopard project
The three bordering provinces of West Azerbaijan, Ardebil and East Azerbaijan that provide common habitats and corridors between Iran and the neighbouring countries in Caucasus; of these East Azerbaijan province has the longest border line and the most common leopard potential habitats with the two neighbouring countries of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Since April 2012, Department of Environment of Iran together with the East Azarbaijan provincial DoE office and Asian Leopard Specialist Society, embarked on a project to measure the Persian leopard population, potential habitats and corridors in the region, prey status and active threats affecting leopard survival and habitats’ connectivity in the region.
The first phase of the project has been completed recently and resulted in first-hand information on potential leopard habitats and corridors among them as well as active threats in and around critical habitats.
Last chances to keep leopard areas in North-western Iran connected:
East Azarbaijan province, covering an area of 45663 Km² in North-western Iran, was divided to four study zones for field data collection and further analysis.
This study estimates that 27% of the studied region in North-western Iran covering 37 main and distinct habitats could be considered as potential leopard areas. The largest potential habitats with high degree of suitability are mainly located in north of the province bordering with neighbouring countries of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
At the next level, habitats in south east of the province bordering with Ardebil and Zanjan provinces of Iran are the largest leopard potential habitats with most corridors and connections available among them. However, habitats in southern and south western parts of the province are more scattered and isolated. Areas among these habitats are disturbed by various human activities such as the cultivation lands and agriculture, road networks and populated areas.
It is worth mentioning that collaborative research and conservation efforts in countries of the region together with financial and technical contribution of international organizations are essential to ensure the Persian leopard habitat connectivity in transboundary areas.
Next step of the project:
We are in the early stage of the second phase of the Persian leopard project in the borderline habitats in Caucasus ecoregion. In this phase we plan to conduct more detail studies including systematic camera trappings to address population estimates and occupancy status assessments of the leopards and their prey in each identified habitat. We have already purchased equipment required to conduct telemetry studies during the current phase of the project.
The study was conducted by Arezoo Sanei, Executive Director at Asian Leopard Specialist Society, Tehran, Iran; Mohamad Reza Masoud, Senior Wildlife Expert at Department of Environment, East-Azarbaijan Provincial Office; and Hossein Mohammadi General Director, Biodiversity and Wildlife Bureau, Department of the Environment, Tehran, Iran.